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Anteaters aiming still higher

UCI, coming off two straight NCAA Tournament appearances, wants to go even deeper into the postseason in 2010.

August 26, 2010|By Barry Faulkner, barry.faulkner@latimes.com

Though George Kuntz and his wife Susan have two kids, the UC Irvine men's soccer program has also, for the last 15 years, been the veteran coach's baby.

Having made back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances the last two seasons, Kuntz's Anteaters seem to have blossomed into a formidable force in their formative years.

And despite the loss of four of his top six scorers from last season — including All-American Irving Garcia, Big West Conference Tournament MVP Carlos Aguilar, and inspirational captain Kevin Santora — there are those who believe season 16 under Kuntz could be savory sweet.

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"Our kids have big goals … huge goals," Kuntz said of his players, who have won two Big West Tournament titles and one regular-season crown the past two seasons, allowing themselves to perhaps ponder a more extended postseason run. "They've put so many years and so much time into it, they are saying 'Why not? Why can't it be us?' ''

The latter reference, Kuntz said, is a trip to the College Cup, the sport's final four which in 2010 will be held at UC Santa Barbara.

"I think they have aspirations to get to that point," Kuntz said. "Will they be able to? That remains to be seen. But I think we have the potential to get there."

That potential starts with senior forwards Amani Walker and Spencer Thompson, as well as junior goalkeeper Andrew Fontein and senior midfielder Gray Bailey and senior defender Corey Attaway.

Walker scored a team-best nine goals last season and added three assists on his way to first-team all-conference recognition. This despite starting only 12 of the 22 games in which he appeared.

Thompson, who started all 22 games in 2009, had seven goals and four assists. A second-team All-Big West performer last season, Thompson is a nominee for the Hermann Trophy awarded annually to the top player in Division I.

"They have been tremendous for us," Kuntz said of the strong, skilled duo, whose similar styles, Kuntz believes, make it less likely they will both be on the field at the same time. "They are both bulldozers out there, so, in that regard, it's almost better to play them with a quicker, smaller player."

Garcia, now with the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer, was the definition of a diminutive dynamo in his two seasons at UCI. He had eight goals and nine assists last season to help the Anteaters finish 15-7. UCI was 30-9-6 with Garcia, a community college transfer, in uniform.

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